Review: One Cut Of The Dead

Director: Shin’ichirô Ueda

Stars: Takayuki Hamatsu, Yuzuki Akiyama, Harumi Shuhama

With AMC’s TV show The Walking Dead slowly becoming as decrepit as its lumbering namesakes and the over-saturation of digital B-movies faring no better, it seemed as though the zombie genre might just bite the dust. It’s funnier younger siblings – the zomcoms – have fared better in the years since Shaun Of The Dead, but still the prognosis has seemed poor of late. Leave it to the Japanese, then, to inject new life, just when things were looking critical.

One Cut Of The Dead is an audacious ode to lo-fi zombie moviemaking, relishing the tendency of small crews and scrambled practical effects work. The film opens with a 36-minute take; a small movie in itself that is gloriously rough by design, fizzing with energy and deliberately shot through with a messy, hand-held aesthetic.

Chinatsu (Yuzuki Akiyama) and Ko (Kazuaki Nagaya) are stars of a low rent zombie movie being filmed in a derelict factory. Their lives suddenly appear in actual danger, however, when crew member Nao (Harumi Shuhama) reveals to them that the location is the site of genuine WWII experiments to reanimate the dead. The first attack hits at the 10 minute mark. From there these three characters are hurled along a chaotic rollercoaster of undead encounters and bloody near-misses. It doesn’t help that their tyrannical director (Takayuki Hamatsu) is over-the-moon about this ‘real’ threat, jumping out at them with his camera yelling “Action!” and actively pushing them into danger in order to capture real fear.

Shot on digital with colour grading that pushes outdoor greenery to its bleeding limits, this extended opening evokes everything from George A Romero to Tobe Hooper. By its doolally conclusion, one is left baffled as to how One Cut Of The Dead can possibly perpetuate itself, which is where things arguably become far more interesting…

The hour that follows switches gears by necessity and One Cut shifts into mockumentary mode, employing an entirely different tempo and form to widen its scope. It becomes not just a celebration of zombie movies, but of the guerrilla process of scrambling a film together with little cash and all manner of obstacles. Here, the film gets funnier, as Hamatsu’s director Higurashi contends with the many obstacles that can fall in a filmmaker’s way; everything from faulty rigging and unreliable crew members to onset sickness and inflated egos. Purists may bemoan that, ultimately, One Cut isn’t really a zombie movie at all, and that it never quite matches up to the rough and ready burst of its beginning. But that is to miss the point entirely. This isn’t a flick about the undead coming to gnaw on your shoulder, it’s an ode to the collaborative spirit inherent in the art form itself. Nobody makes a movie alone. A comedic human pyramid becomes the absolute literal representation of this point.

As already advised, if you want straight-up zombie mayhem there is an abundance of other alternatives available to you. One Cut Of The Dead, however, would be a shame to pass up. The original title here was Don’t Stop Shooting!, and as much as the events of the latter half of the movie totally change the context of its beginning, there may be more to be said about Ueda’s subtext here. One Cut might just be saying something about our culture of documenting. Everybody has the tools to film themselves. To record. To project their own reality into a collective stream of information accessible to all. More and more we are encouraged to share everything. Prior zombie filmmakers have used their shuffling antagonists to comment on consumerism or unquestioned indoctrination. One Cut has more to say about the living. About where we are culturally; our obsessions with layering our own existence.

Perhaps I’m looking too hard at something which, primarily, should be taken as a joyful blast of entertainment splattered with fake blood. A clever comedy in which zombies play fetch with severed limbs and lurch around like Thom Yorke dancing.

A final thought; Higurashi’s insistence that his derided masterpiece be completed reaches an emotional apex as he defends it, yelling “Some will see!”. So many great filmmakers find their feet in genre cinema. His words of desperation feel like a resonant battle cry for all. Perhaps one that comes from One Cut‘s director Shin’ichirô Ueda himself? Considering this film’s justified international reception, here’s hoping he gets his wish.

Score:  

One Cut Of The Dead is available in the UK on bluray from Third Window Films from 28 January 2019.

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